State Watch

New Jersey eyes June 12 for allowing 'greater indoor religious services'

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he is looking at allowing for larger indoor services in houses of worship by June 12 as the state eases restrictions put in place to fight the coronavirus.

Murphy told reporters during his daily briefing that he is inching closer to relaxing restrictions on churches and other houses of worship dependent on incoming data, though he did not provide any specifics as to how many people would be allowed in the spaces at one time. 

"As long as our health metrics continue to trend in the right direction, I anticipate being able to raise the limits on indoor gatherings in a way that will allow for greater indoor religious services for the weekend of June 12," Murphy said. 

"Our houses of worship are cornerstones of our communities - often rooted in historical and cultural tradition," he added. "We want them to be strong, and safe. This is especially meaningful in our communities of color, which have been hit particularly hard."

Indoor gatherings at New Jersey churches have been capped at 10 people since late March when Murphy issued his stay-at-home order. Churches have recently been allowed to conduct drive-in services and, later, outdoor ceremonies.

Restrictions on church services were thrust into the spotlight last week when President Trump declared all houses of worship in the country "essential," threatening to override any governor who does not permit them to reopen. Murphy, whose state still has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the country, said at the time that services would remain restricted.

Murphy has begun relaxing restrictions as the number of new cases and deaths have dropped, though those efforts have largely been focused on outdoor gatherings. The governor is expected to unveil more steps in his reopening plan in the coming days.